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Advertisers should be wary of their negative influence on children

By | January 31st 2010

By Janet Mbogo

Over the years, research into advertising has increased giving rise to a body of knowledge about the part it plays in shaping consumers’ desires, beliefs, values, and choices. Television has emerged as a particularly salient advertising medium, which is not surprising given its ubiquity and prominence as a source of entertainment and information.

The influence of advertising on our lives, for children and adults, has changed over the years.

In the early days, advertising for toys and other products for children was primarily targeted toward parents and their message was direct. Today however, things have changed. Marketing messages are more sophisticated, more pervasive, and are aimed directly at "hooking" children at an early age.

Children are considered one of the most vulnerable of all media audiences. After a discussion of the uniqueness of child audiences and commercials’ effects on them, I decided to address the values of advertisers who purposely and inadvertently reach children with their messages.

The recent event of my son spending two weeks in a hospital bed made me think twice about the TV adverts and programmes especially those that involve children. I got a phone call as I was leaving work for home that my son had fallen and broken his elbow following what the house girl said was flying like superman.

That triggered my memories of what he once did to my clothes in the wardrobe so as not to go to work but rather stay at home with him. According to what he sees in television advert, he picked tomato sauce and sprayed on my clothes. After all, he could see I had a product that removes stains.

The recent adverts on TV, especially those of young people, need to be expressed with caution as children seem to copy and learn from them.

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One advert shows a boy jumping into a pool of water to get his brother’s ball. Every time I see this advert I freeze knowing that in the upcoming estates people are digging dip tanks to trap and store water for construction. What happens if you live in such a neighborhood and as the advert goes ‘I have no control of what my kids do when am not around’ and as they play their toy or ball falls in the tank?

Increased merchandising to young consumers has placed consumerism at the centre stage in the lives of children and teenagers. This phenomenon has been accompanied by growing concerns about the ability of youngsters to make mature judgement about commercial messages. The psychological immaturity of children may render them more to temptations of attempting what they are seeing.

We may not have control over what our kids do or watch when we are not around but unethical adverts should not be allowed to control the charts just because they are the main sponsors. We all have a responsibility, whether we are parents or not, to protect our children from danger.

The writer ([email protected]) is the head of Communication and Public Affairs at International Centre for Policy and Conflict.

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